Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Save some money on wrapping this Christmas

Wrapping paper can be expensive; add on the bows and other silly crap, and just the wrapping decorations on a single present can be a few bucks. We went searching for a clean and professional way to inexpensively wrap corporate gifts -- we send out about 150 gifts -- while also creating some branding on the wrapping. Here's what we came up with:

This is basic brown shipping paper that you can purchase in any office supply or paper store. We wound up buying a pretty large roll of it in a 50 weight, but the entire roll was less than $50. The logo is applied with a self-inking rubber stamp that cost us around $25 and was produced in 24 hours by OfficeMax.

In order to wrap the presents, we simply measured paper strips against the boxes we were wrapping and pre-cut them. Prior to actually applying the paper, we randomly hit the paper with the Argus stamp -- it works best on a very hard surface as opposed to stamping after the box is wrapped. To keep a clean look, we wrapped the bottom and corners and held them closed with scotch tape. Then we applied adhesive brown packing tape (it has to be wet with a sponge) so that no seams were visible. We wound up with exactly what you see in the picture and exactly what we wanted: a clean, professional-looking wrapping that displays our brand.

However, you do not have to limit this method to corporate gifts, it works just as well for home applications. A side bonus is that you can tear off a big chunk of paper for your kids any time and let them draw all over it throughout the entire year; wouldn't want do that with wrapping paper. You can also use the paper as an expensive and disposable tablecloth -- if you get the heavyweight stuff, it will absorb some amount of spills and if you have a party with kids, they can draw all over it.

Happy wrapping.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

MacBook Air

I'm switching to a MacBook Air, not one of the newer generation, but a brand new older generation -- I couldn't pass up the deal of saving over $800. I'm in the process of migrating everything from my MacBook Pro over to the Air right now, so stay tuned for updates once I get everything up and running.

But because I'm writing about it -- a few quick migration tips:
  • Get the USB to ethernet adapter for the Air and plug both it and the Mac you are migrating from into the same switch.
  • Make sure that you don't have more data, applications, etc. on the Mac you are migrating from than will fit on the Air. I had to do some pruning and archiving, which actually wound up being a good process.
  • Use the Apple Migration Assistant -- it just doesn't get any easier.
Stay tuned.

Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki

Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki could be the most useful business book of the year -- I highly recommend purchasing it even if you do not typically purchase business books.

Guy has put all of his years of knowledge, including information from his blog, into a single volume of reference. One word of warning: this book is huge (think 400+ pages). I actually read the book all the way through and am glad that I did because I can now use it to reference particular topics. Whether you choose to read it using my method or prefer to have it around as a reference on particular topics is up to you, but the writing style is engaging enough to not make it a chore to read all the way through.

Although Guy has a tech and venture background, most of the lessons and information that he provides in the book are applicable to all businesses. For example, designing good PowerPoint for a venture pitch provides excellent guidelines for designing good PowerPoint in general.

I was fortunate enough to participate in a teleseminar with Guy and he explained two reasons for his book: (1) all the information in his book are answers to questions that he gets asked all the time, and; (2) although some of the information is available on his blog, blog posts do not necessarily stay fresh and current and get lost, even with Google's ability to index them.

There is only one bad and inexplicable thing about Guy's book: the Kindle version is only $1.99 less than the hardback version.

Definitely a worthy purchase and a no bull shiitake corporate/employee gift.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A few interesting things I found over the weekend

Monolingual. Free application that allows you to remove a bunch of localization files from OS X, specifically languages, keyboard layouts, and processor support files. Essentially you can delete a bunch of megs of stuff you'll never use; when I ran it, it deleted 65MB worth of files. Another URL shortening service that seems to super-compress URLs. Seems pretty useful for Twitter and other character-restricted applications.

MailSteward. Archive and search all of your mail from OS X's Mail application. All the mail gets put into a file that can be moved and copied and backed up like any other file.

Friday, November 21, 2008


So I wrote that fairly long post about how conferences could create value -- remember that? Ok, so I found a single-source provider that can handle hosting and dealing with all of your audio and video content: AudioAcrobat. AudioAcrobat handles the hosting (and bandwidth needs for doing so) of all of your audio and video files -- not only can you provide download links, but they also are a streaming host.

Pretty cool stuff.

Pricing is around $20 per month with 5gb of bandwidth each month. Again, you're selling a sponsorable vector and potentially have the ability to get sponsor revenue on top of an ancillary revenue stream, so $240 a year is relatively negligible in the face of the potential revenue. Also note the fact that you can record teleconferences . . . imagine doing some teleconferences in between actual conferences with subject matter experts; you could use them as teasers for the conference, as an added value to conference attendees, and/or as an additional revenue stream.

Google search gets social/interactive/addictive/wikish

So, if you have a Google Account (if you use any Google service where you have to login, you have one) and you are logged in when you search, you can now actually play around with search results that you receive on any topic. What do I mean by "play around"? Take a look at these extra icons next to the results:

Now I can remove results that are irrelevant to my search parameters and promote search results above how Google ranks them. Essentially every search becomes an editable wiki for registered users. This makes Google searches exciting again (for now), better than other search engines (until they copy it), and perhaps might even result in more relevant, human-reviewed search results (until it starts to be exploited and becomes irrelevant/useless). But remember that Google makes its revenue from advertising, so if more people search their site and are exposed to ads they can potentially click, Google gets a first-mover advantage (just in time for the end of FY2008 Q4).

Cold season and Zicam

I think that the original Zicam is a little bit of hocus pocus and some real homeopathic remedy -- quite frankly, the original Zicam zinc nasal spray makes my nose bleed and makes it sore . . . and I really didn't see that much of a decrease in cold symptoms because I was too busy blowing blood out of my nose.

Zicam now (and when I say "now," I mean they came out some time last year) has these quick-dissolve tablets that seem to be the same amount of hocus pocus, but they don't make my mouth bleed like my nose did. Here's the deal: these tablets come in a couple of flavors and give you a pretty concentrated dose of zinc, vitamin C, and echinacea. I tend to believe that zinc and vitamin C can't do anything bad for you when you have a cold, so I can get on board with the dissolving tabs except for the fact that they don't tell you how to use them.

Here's how you use the Zicam dissolving tabs:
  • Pop the tab into your mouth
  • DO NOT swallow the stuff that immediately dissolves, just hold it in your mouth
  • Hold all the dissolved stuff in your mouth until the entire tab dissolves and then swallow it
  • Don't drink and orange juice (citric acid) for at least a half hour
  • Do your best to take these things with a little bit of something in your stomach
If you do not hold all the tablet in your mouth at the same time, the good tasting coating that is designed to mask that totally nasty taste of the zinc goes away and the thing tastes horrible and makes you want to throw up. Hey, there's no reason to get sick to your stomach when you're just trying to prevent/cut short your cold.

Oh, and if you're going to buy into this as a treatment, buy it a Costco -- it's unbelievable what it costs at normal stores.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Two Types of Management

Another one from Meeks:

Two types of management:
  1. Strategic management. Use the strategic process to plan and execute against strategy.
  2. Shit-slinging management. You show up and shovel shit all day long with a smile on your face and at the end of the year you hope some of the shit stuck because you don't have a plan.
Let me expound on this a little bit more with some of my thoughts:

The strategic process is an important thing. It's hard to run a business without a plan in the long run; it can be easy to have no strategy in the relative short term because you may find yourself in a position where you really are throwing something against the wall to see if it sticks. In an ideal world, you approach even your startup with a good knowledge of goals and objectives and a plan about how you are going to get there with the knowledge that things are likely to change, perhaps significantly change in the very short term.

What you don't want to wind up with is a company that started small with the slinging stuff around principle, what I'll refer to as the "lemonade stand" strategy, that relatively suddenly becomes a big company is just a million dollar lemonade stand . . . throwing cups of lemonade at the wall.

Picture from maubrowncow.

Rainforests: managers and leaders

I was reading through some notes from a strategic management course I took in college and ran across this explanation of management vs. leadership:

If the goal is to cut a 100 mile path through the rain forest, then the managers manage the people by providing sharp machetes, showing the workers how to swing them, and providing water, while the leaders climb the tallest tree to make sure that everyone is going in the right direction. The managers strive to make sure that all the workers are working in the most effective manner, while the leaders are making sure that the work is effective.

As I read more through my notes, I may share some more information like this. Far and away, this strategic management class was the best class I attended and the most impactful class on me in all 4 years of college and it was taught by Michael Meeks -- thanks, Meeks.

Rainforest picture by orvaratli

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Provide more value from your conferences

When the economy faces a downturn, one of the easy things to cut is travel and conference attendance. For people that sell services to conference attendees, the smart decision is to actually increase frequency of attendance, but for those that consume services, the bottom-line focus tends to cause fewer attendees.

Here's what I propose you do:
  • Equip every speaker with a microphone (yes, even the small sessions), plug a digital recording device into the sound board, and capture everything as a MP3. This can be easily accomplished with very inexpensive hardware that will capture and encode on the fly. Once you have the audio, post it on your site for attendees to download (even better, post it for everyone to download so that they can see the value of content at your conferences -- you are providing fresh and valuable content every time, aren't you?). Total cost of this is whatever the recording devices cost you, some server space, some additional bandwidth, and maybe the rental of a few extra sound boards and microphones during the conference. Of course, this is a sponsorable vector, and you could probably invest in some solid equipment in year one using sponsorship dollars and still have some revenue left over.
  • Give people access to the presentations. This doesn't cost anything and you can use a service like SlideShare (I like SlideShare because you can view the presentation on the web and also download it) to do everything for you; you just have to make sure that you get digital copies of everyones' presentation. If you don't use SlideShare or something similar, you can just put the slideshow files right next to the MP3 files on your site. Providing slides costs even less than the MP3s because the presenters are creating the presentations and all you are doing is uploading them somewhere and making them available for download. Again, this is a sponsorable vector (though it's likely that the same sponsor would want to own MP3s and slides under the same sponsorship).
  • Do a video recording of the presentations and make the videos available to stream from your site. People are used to YouTube-quality recordings, which can be created with very inexpensive digital video cameras. So you invest in some cheap, moderate quality cameras and get the interns to run them during the presentation. I would think in the first year you just upload them to YouTube and embed them on your own site so that you can wrap them in sponsor branding; sure, they'll be available to the world, but you're proving the value of your conferences, so who cares? Again, this is very low cost proposition: just a few cameras and tripods, some interns to run them, and a computer to upload to a service provider. And again, this is a sponsorable vector, so you should be able to get the first year sponsorship to pay for all the hardware and still have a little profit left over.
Let's say you do some combination of the above options -- you've now made the registration fee for your conference more cost effective and you've created sponsorship opportunities that did not previously exist. You could get more creative by loading up all the MP3s on to a cheap MP3 player (think SanDisk) or thumb drive and sell the audio; you could load up all the videos and sell them in much the same way (I probably don't need to say it again, but I will: distribution on a physical product is another sponsorable vector that is easily argued to be separate and different from the online distribution side). Perhaps you get even more creative and have one registration fee that only gets you into the conference and another more expensive fee that gets you into the conference and also gets you access to all the digital content after the conference: now you've created an incremental revenue stream along with the additional sponsorable items.

Just my $0.02.

PS -- I'm not sure that "sponsorable" is a word (spell check doesn't like it), but it should be as it describes perfectly anything for which a sponsorship can be sold.

Photo from ALA TechSource

Monday, November 17, 2008

The service of trash

Do you think of trash collection as a customer service activity? I think, in general, most folks are just happy to get their stuff hauled away and don't mind much about how it happens. However, if just one company raises the service bar a little bit, then suddenly the consumer takes notice.

For years and years I was with the same trash company in Colorado. During the summer, they left my cans (usually with the lids inside them -- gross) to fester out on the curb or in the street; during the winter they left them usually in the street with the lids wherever the dropped them (slightly less gross, but inconvenient if they were left upright with no lid and filled with snow). I just switched to the company that takes the extra 20 seconds to walk the trashcans with their lids in place and put them in front of my garage door. Not only are they a little less expensive, but they provide the extra customer service and recycling service for that less expensive price.

Most of the folks in my neighborhood are with the company that I just switched to, which means my former company had opportunities every week to show how much better they could be. Had it been me on that green truck, I would have made every effort to do better than the other guys -- every single time I picked up the trash, I would have not only returned the trashcans to the front of the garage, but I would have put them under an overhang when it was snowing.

What's really interesting is that the old green truck company had 2-3 people in the truck while the new company has only one guy -- from a resource perspective, it is much easier for the old company to provide a higher level of service than the new company, so they are consciously making an effort not to.

How much do you think it costs to provide this level of service? Bear in mind that the new company only has one guy working the truck, so if the old company pays their 3 guys $35,000.00 per year, the old company's cost is $105,000 in salaries plus another $26,000 in fringe (using around 25% for fringe). The new company probably pays their guy $50,000 plus another plus another $12,5000 for fringe; he's slower because he's alone and has to carry cans up driveways, but the lower throughput is more than made up for in the extra service and salary savings.

Here's something else that's silly: the old green company had a bunch of churn, had a bunch of guys that did not speak English, and had a set policy that their guys could not accept gifts of any kind, even during the Christmas holiday time. Compare that to the new company that has the same driver every week, that speaks English, that can be talked into taking some extra stuff, and is not restricted from taking gifts in return for special service.

Bottom-line: even if the new guys were a little more expensive, I probably would have changed to them anyway; the lower price is just a free prize.

Remember what Seth Godin said:

"Maybe the reason it seems that price is all you customers care about is . . . that you haven't given them anything else to care about."

Picture by Daniel Spillere Andrade

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Publishing errors

Not sure what's been going on, but Blogger hasn't been publishing my blog for the last few days. I think I have everything fixed and please accept my apologies if you've been getting errors.


Monday, November 10, 2008

The Obama Tribe

This guy has some true tribe leadership, doesn't he? I recently stumbled upon's first video that he released on YouTube entitled Yes We Can. Following Obama's win, produced another song and video entitled It's a New Day, which debuted on Oprah last week. Perhaps I haven't paid attention in the past, but I don't remember this level of support and endorsement for any Presidents in the past. Sure, celebrities have always picked sides, but I don't recall the amount of passion that Obama seems to receive.

Maybe it's because it has never been easier for videos like the ones produced by to be distributed and become viral. Maybe it's because Obama embraced social tools to reach his tribe. Maybe it's because the soon-to-be-previous administration left a vacuum that needed a particular kind of leader. Maybe.

But consider this: powerful people say things like "Obama inspires me to be a better person." Wow, really? Or more personally, my dad, the last person that I would expect to do so, paid his own way -- airplane ticket, lodging, food, laptop, cellphone, opportunity cost of not working -- to spend almost a week in Pennsylvania supporting the campaign. (I would love to share some of his stories, but they are not mine to tell, so I'll see if he wants to write a guest post or 2).

It seems like there is something more fundamental going on here, doesn't it? Like maybe what is expected in a President has fundamentally changed. Maybe the tribe that is America desires something new in the leadership that is the President.

Picture from radiospike photography

Friday, November 07, 2008

No more advertising on this site feed

I've disabled the advertising for all of the site feeds for this blog. Although all of the dollars went to my daughter's college fund, the dollars were negligible and I've come to the realization that the ads simply detract from the content and potentially may even cause people to unsubscribe.

I write this blog because I feel like it, not to monetize it, so enjoy subscribing to read ad free.

PS -- yes, the static ad at the very bottom of the site will stay for now, but I welcome any feedback on that. The primary people that see that are those that happen across a post based on a search result, not anyone that reads via RSS.

Avoiding bad presentations

Although I've posted a number of times about this, there's a concise article in the current issue of Fast Company that's worth a read for anyone the has to create and give presentations.

If you don't feel like reading the whole thing, here's the quick take-away: Use your presentation medium (not necessarily Powerpoint) to illustrate your story, not tell it; create curiosity to keep your audience engaged.

More details via the link below.

Link -- Fast Company

Image from cogdogblog

Monday, November 03, 2008


I've changed my home digital storage from a Mac connected to 2 external drives that I striped to RAID 1 using Disk Utility to a Drobo. More specifically, I've changed from a computer that is managing and sharing my storage to a network attached storage (NAS) system. Here's why I did this:
  • I'm either getting rid of the Mac desktop or plugging it into a TV, so I don't want all of the external drives attached to it anymore (especially if I get rid of it).
  • The primary computers in the house are going to be laptops, so I need a storage solution that allows me to connect to it via the network, but doesn't need to be physically connected to any one machine.
  • Drobo allows expandability up to 16TB through the insertion of up to 4 SATA drives -- the price of these drives continues to go down and 16TB as an upper-end single device limit seems reasonable to me.
  • Data storage needs to be redundant and fault tolerant and the way that Drobo distributes data across multiple drives and reports on impending drive failures is attractive.
  • I could have simply plugged the Drobo into the USB on my Airport Extreme and shared the disk, but the Droboshare device is attractive due to the DroboApps that are being developed to make it act more like a lightweight server than just a traditional NAS.
  • I like the fact that the NAS can be easily disconnected and the Drobo simply plugged into the USB port of any computer -- this is not functionality normally found on NAS-capable devices.
While certainly not the cheapest NAS solution, I've been very happy with the performance of the Drobo unit thus far. I have initially set up the Drobo with two 1TB drives, which leaves about 1TB free for storage with the other 1TB reserved for data redundancy. My previous set-up was two 250GB drives striped for RAID 1, which left about 250GB for storage, so I've effectively quadrupled my storage capacity and built in expansion. Furthermore, the external drives I was using did not have any external warnings for drive failure or the ability to hot swap drives.

As I mentioned, one of the exciting parts of the Drobo, and specifically Droboshare, is DroboApps. Two apps in particular are very cool: Yoics, which allows me to access the Drobo remotely via the web and Firefly, which is an iTunes Media Server (i.e., you point it to your music files, and they show up as a shared library for iTunes-capable devices connected to the network). Essentially Droboshare is a lightweight Linux server, so there are people writing all kinds of software for it.

My biggest challenge right now is figuring out how to back up everything on the Drobo into the cloud. Ideally Jungledisk or someone similar would write an application for Droboshare that would allow it to back things up by itself without needing a connected computer to do it for you.

Link -- Drobo main page
Link -- Drobo purchase on Amazon
Link -- Droboshare purchase on Amazon